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Skill Acquisition – Skill, Ability, Technique Essay Sample

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Skill Acquisition – Skill, Ability, Technique Essay Sample

Every sport is compiled of many skills. To be skilful one must have the innate ability and the correct technique. So, what is skill? Welford defines skill thus,

“An organised co-ordinated activity in relation to an object or situation which involves a whole chain of sensory, central and motor mechanisms” (as cited by; Gilligan et al, 1999)

In sport we do not use one skill alone but a whole variety of skills; there are cognitive, perceptual and motor skills. However the one we use in sport is referred to as perceptual motor skills as sport involves thought, interpretation and movement. A simple example of a perceptual motor skill would be: Receiving then passing a basketball.

In order for a performance to be skilful the following qualities must be present:

1. Consistency (being able to achieve a target every time a skill is performed)

2. An intention (not a fluke)

3. Control (over the skill)

4. Accuracy (results do not vary much)

5. Fluidity (the skill is performed with grace, it looks easy to onlookers)

To fully understand what skill is, we must first appreciate the nature of its make-up; technique and ability.

Firstly what is ability? Abilities are building blocks of skilful performance. Without them the skill would not be complete. They are inborn, and so, all sportspeople have an ability culmination; which, when reached, provided the presence of perfect technique, will be the most skilful that athlete could ever become.

Examples of abilities would be: speed in basketball, strength in shot putt and hand – eye co-ordination in squash.

Now to answer: what is technique? It is the way a skill is performed; we have standard technique models for most skills in sport which allow one to practice until perfection is reached.

Skill can be represented by this equation.


We cannot train or aim to improve ability very much, so we must concentrate on technique to improve the overall skill.

I have chosen the following sports and skills:

1. Basketball. Skill: lay-up.

2. Athletics. Skill: shot putt.

3. Squash. Skill: low return.

Classification of the given skills

1. A lay-up in basketball is: open, has the characteristics of externally and internally paced skills (you can lay-up when you choose to, however you cannot do so with a defender in the way, his actions sometimes govern yours; a lay-up would be about the 5 mark on the Pacing Continuum), it is discrete and interactive.

2. Shot putt in athletics is: closed, self paced, discrete and individual.

3. The low return in squash is: open, externally paced, discrete and interactive.

Why is classification important? I feel that by classifying skill we can understand the requirements of the skill and thus improve teaching and learning methods; and this allows us to design practices that suit the skill best, and match its classification.

Type of Practice

Basketball Lay-Up Practice

As I have chosen a novice competitor, I feel that a fixed and distributed practice is suitable because they would not have the skill levels required to be able to adapt to a changing situation in variable practice and I chose distributed because a novice would need frequent breaks in order to re-hydrate, rest and receive extrinsic feedback.. However as skill levels increase I could begin to move away from the fixed style of practice towards the variable style as variable the style favours open and interactive games.

1st Drill – the X – out lay up.

Player 1 starts at the red or the white position depending on their preferred hand, they run up taking 3 strides and lay-up the ball, then rebound their own shot and dribbles out to their starting position.

Drill is repeated.

Place emphasis on:

1. Correct footwork

2. 1 dribble only

3. Jump up and not long

Possible variations:

1. Do the drill in a group where at the white and red circles there would be a line of players who would run up to the basket and perform a simple lay-up alternatively, then rebound, then pass the ball to the next player in the opposite line. Use only one ball for this drill.

2. Have player 1 doing lay-ups form the left and right as in the original drill but now have someone rebound the ball and passing it to player one. This drill would be used just to familiarise the player with the skill.

2nd Drill – Multi-angle pass and lay-up

This drill combines a routine lay-up drill with sprints and teaches the player to adjust to balls coming from different angles.

Drill requires six players and five balls.

Drill starts with players standing with balls at five points as shown.

Shooter breaks to the basket, receives pass from Player 2 and hits lay-up.

Shooter runs back to his starting point and cuts back down the key, where he will receive a pass from Player 1.

Shooter hits lay-up.

The drill is continued until all the balls are used up.

Place emphasis on:

1. The type of pass: bounce or chest.

2. Jump up not long.

Possible Variations:

1. Type of pass: give different instructions to passing players to pass: chest, bounce or random. Also the speed of the pass; slow in this case because the player is a novice.

3rd Drill – Passing, cuts and lay-ups

Drill starts with two players or two lines outside 3 point line (1&2).

Each player has a ball. There are two players at the elbow.

1 and 2 exchange the balls

1 passes to 3, and 2 pass to 4 and 1 and 2 cut to basket

3 pivots to the right and gives a pass to 2

4 pivots to left and passes to 1.

1 and 2 shoot a lay up and rebound the ball.

Place emphasis on:

1. The speed of play: slow to suit the rookie.

2. The type of pass: bounce or chest.

3. The type of lay-up: off the back board, straight tip in, shooting style or lifting style of delivery.

Some variations could be:

1. The given player could start in position 3 or 4 and be passed the ball then lay-up. Followed by a rebound by wither himself or players 1 or 2.

Athletics – Shot Putt Practice

An elite athlete has been chosen. I surmise that a fixed practice should be used as shot putt is a closed, self-paced and individual activity. Through fixed training the athlete will be able to perfect the skill; it will become autonomous to him. Massed training will be used as the athlete is elite and will be able to continue performance under fatiguing conditions giving more time to practice. There is no need for brakes as the athlete can give intrinsic feedback, again as he is elite he will know the correct technique.

I will assume the athlete is male, right handed and performs the glide as apposed to the spin.

1st Drill – Glide to Medicine Ball

What this drill does: Improves non – throwing leg action during putt.


1. Place a medicine ball at the centre of the throwing circle.

2. Take forward straddle position facing the back of the throwing circle with shot in throwing position. (at neck).

3. Bend throwing side knee transferring weight over knee.

4. Non throwing leg is relaxed and extended backwards, non -throwing arm is out in front of the body.

5. Drive non throwing leg towards body, (get ready position, before throw.)

6. Push and glide back toward medicine ball with non throwing foot.


The drill should be repeated 20 times at the athletes pace.

Points of Emphasis:

1. Low efficient leg extension – shot is pushed directly forward.

2. Focus only on the leg action and weight transfer across the circle.

3. Also the drill should be done without stopping.

When to Use: Integrate into the entire technique as soon as possible.

Possible Variations: half way through the glide the performer could freeze to analyse body position and height. Also, I would consider how far he is twisted backwards (away from the pit).

2nd Drill – Putting for Distance

What This Drill Does:

1. Develop complete putting action

2. Develop explosive power in putting action


1. Push shot from as far back behind body to as far forward as possible

2. Drive up onto toes and push forward with body

3. Release shot so that arms are fully extended in front of body and above head

Points of Emphasis:

1. Use of the whole body in this action, not just the arms.

2. Complete arm extension.

3. Weight behind body.

When to Use: Once technique work begins

3rd Drill – Putting for Height and Distance

What This Drill Does:

1. Develops complete putting action.

2. Develops explosive power in putting action.


1. Stretch a rope between two high jump standards, 2M above ground.

2. Stand behind rope and throw shot over rope.

3. If successful, take two steps back away from rope and repeat.

Points of Emphasis:

1. Use whole body in this action, not just arms

2. Complete arm extension

3. Weight behind body

When to Use: Once technique work begins


Drill 2 and 3 are fairly similar with only minor distinctions. However the elite athlete needs to practice on the whole skill in order for it to become autonomous.

Squash – Low Return Practice.

Yet again an elite athlete has been chosen. A suitable practice method would be variable as the practice should best mimic the “in game” situation; which would be highly open. Variable practice allows the performer to develop their skills at adapting to a changing situation. Also, the type of practice suits the interactive quality of the game. Massed practice should be adopted as the game is ever continuing and practice should imitate it. As the performer is elite they will be able to give intrinsic feedback during the game, the continuity of practice allows the skills to be tested under fatiguing conditions when the performer may less rational with the decrease in energy levels.

I will assume the performer is male and right handed.

1st Drill – High Toss & Return

What This Drill Does:

1. Introduces the advantages of the low wall return.

2. Familiarises the performer with the action.


1. The player stands in the centre of the court on the T mark.

2. Ball in left hand, he tosses the ball up into the air.

3. During the ball’s decent; the player may choose to hit it at any point.

4. After having struck the wall, the ball returns.

a. If it is a high return, a smash should follow into the region close the “out” area at the bottom of the front wall.

b. If the return is low; the player may choose to restart the drill or sweep the ball up, aiming for the lower area on the front wall.

Points of Emphasis: 1. Spin – preferably sidespin as thus the ball will lose momentum and energy making the first bounce lower and thus more difficult to return.

2. Body position – the player should not have to move form the T mark.

When to Use: In the game – anytime possible.

Possible Variations: Drill could be done front or back hand.

2nd Drill – V, low & middle rally

What This Drill Does:

1. Trains endurance.

2. Trains shot changing ability.

3. Allows front and back hand to be used equally.


1. Player starts in the left or right box.

2. He serves the ball into the opposite box.

3. He returns; low, placed in the middle of the front wall.

4. Then he rushes back to the box he served from to return the ball low and to the middle of the front wall.

5. The drill continues thus.

Path of ball

Path of player

Points of Emphasis: Spin – Preferably topspin as the ball will go up off the front wall. This will allow the player to cross the court in time to return the ball.

When to Use: When the opponent is in the front – left or front – right position on the court.

Possible Variations: As proficiency increases the height of ball on the front wall could be lowered to increase difficulty.

3rd Drill – Low, Opposite Corner Return

What This Drill Does: Trains awareness of opponent’s position.


1. Player starts on either side of the court.

2. 2nd player stands on the other side at back of court, out of site of the 1st player.

3. 2nd player starts the drill by hitting the ball off the front wall.

4. 1st player must be aware of the second player’s movement and return the ball to the front wall into a corner.

Player 2 Player 1 Course of ball

This situation: player 2 is at the back corner of the court. Player 1 is at the T. The drill would require him to play a shot into the wall opposite player 2 and then to hit the front wall and hopefully “go dead” before player 2 reaches it.

5. The drill is repeated until player2 fouls.

Points of Emphasis: Spin – preferably side spin into the front wall.

When to Use: When the above situation arises.

Possible Variations: If player 1 is far left and back; with player 2 in the position above the shot should not go to the right – front wall but straight to the front wall with the shot placed low and left.


From my investigation, individual sports are comprised of closed, self-passed and continuous skills. The benefits of, fixed – massed practice is that a skill can be repeated until it is over learned and has become autonomous to the performer. As in the real competitive situation the drill would be performed repeatedly, thus practice must mimic this. However, one must consider the possibility of a performer of less ability. The practice there would have different requirements; a beginner shot putter would benefit more from a fixed – distributed practice as shot put requires fixed practice in order for the skill to be over-learned and the performer, being a novice, would need distributed practice in order to receive extrinsic feedback and “catch their breath”.

Team sports can be described as open, interactive and externally paced. For team sports, variable – distributed practice is beneficial, as there are many different skills involved in the entirety of the game. These skills must be practiced under changing conditions, as this way practice best imitates real game situation. On the other hand when considering an elite performer a variable – massed practice would be more beneficial. This is true because team sports are “Open”, and variable practice suits this type of activity best. Massed practice is used over distributed practice because the elite performer would have to be pushed to their limits (overload) in order for any improvement to take place (making the practice beneficial). They would not require extrinsic feedback as they would know what they are doing right and wrong.

Racket games can be elucidated as open, co-active and externally paced. The best practice is one which is variable and massed because in most racket games many skills require a high performance level; these skills can only be achieved and later “polished off” by constant practice, which, should be continuously changing the response required of the player. Thus, testing the player’s decision making ability and in-game proficiency. Furthermore, if a novice racket player is considered, they would require a different approach to practice. Variable practice would be used as racket sports are “Open”. Distributed practice would be used instead of massed practice because the player is of low level and would not be able to sustain a required level of performance throughout the practice due to a lack of fitness and motivation.

For the three types of activities above one must consider the factors which affect performance; the first is motivation, positive motivation is required over negative, this can be generated intrinsically (one thinking they did well) or extrinsically trainer giving a pat on the back). The second factor to consider is reinforcement: which can be social (from your trainer), material (medals and tangible rewards) and internal (from within); good reinforcement will fuel the participant’s desire to perform and improve. Furthermore, in order to maintain performance, anxiety must be controlled.


* Frank Gilligan et al, 2000, Advanced PE for Edexcel, Heinemann.

* http://www.jes-basketball.com/playbook/index.html

  • http://www.specialolympics.org/Special+Olympics+Public+Website/English/Coach/Coaching_Guides/Athletics/Teaching+Athletics+Event+Skills/Shot+Put+Drills.htm

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